Do you need to write a cover letter to apply for a job? In most cases, the answer is yes. Your cover letter may make the difference between obtaining a job interview or having your resume ignored, so it makes good sense to devote the necessary time and effort to writing effective cover letters.
Here's all the information you need to write a cover letter that will get your application noticed. Review these tips for what to include in a cover letter and how to format it.
The letter provides detailed information on why you are qualified for the job you are applying for. Don’t simply repeat what’s on your resume -- rather, include specific information on why you’re a strong match for the employer’s job requirements. Think of your cover letter as a sales pitch that will market your credentials and help you get the interview. As such, you want to make sure your cover letter makes the best impression on the person who is reviewing it.
What to Include in Your Cover Letter
A cover letter should complement, not duplicate, your resume. Its purpose is to interpret the data-oriented, factual resume and add a personal touch to your application for employment. A cover letter is often your earliest written contact with a potential employer, creating a critical first impression. Something that might seem like a small error, like a typo, can get your application immediately knocked off the list. On the other hand, even if your cover letter is error-free and perfectly written, if it is generic (and makes no reference to the company, or to any specifics in the job description) it is also likely to be rejected by a hiring manager.
Effective cover letters explain the reasons for your interest in the specific organization and identify your most relevant skills or experiences. Determine relevance by carefully reading the job description, evaluating the skills required and matching them to your own skills.
Think of instances where you applied those skills, and how you would be effective in the position available.
What to Leave Off Your Cover Letter
There are some things that you don’t need to include in the cover letters you write. The letter is about your qualifications for the job, not about you personally. There is no need to share any personal information about yourself or your family in it. If you don’t have all the qualifications the employer is seeking, don’t mention it. Instead, focus on the credentials you have that are a match. Don’t mention salary unless the company asks for your salary requirements. If you have questions about the job, the salary, the schedule, or the benefits, it’s not appropriate to mention them in the letter.
One thing that’s very important is to not write too much. Keep your letter focused, concise, and a few paragraphs in length. It’s important to convey just enough information to entice the hiring manager to contact you for an interview.
If you write too much, it’s probably not going to be read.
Customize Your Cover Letter
It is very important that your cover letter be tailored to each position you are applying to. This means more than just changing the name of the company in the body of the letter.
Each cover letter you write should be customized to include:
· Which job you're applying for (include the job title in your opening paragraph)
· How you learned about the job (and a referral if you have one)
· Why you are qualified for the job (be specific)
· What you have to offer the employer, and why you want to work at this specific company (match your skills to the job description, and read up on the organization’s mission, values and goals to mention in your letter)
· Thank you for being considered for the job
Cover Letter Writing Guidelines
A cover letter should begin with both your and the employer's contact information (name, address, phone number, email) followed by the date. If this is an email rather than an actual letter, include your contact information at the end of the letter, after your signature.
Your contact information should include:
First and Last Name
City, State Zip
Begin your cover letter salutation with "Dr./Mr./Ms. Last Name." If you are unsure if your contact is male or female, you can write out their full name. If you do not know the employer's name, simply write, "Dear Hiring Manager." This is better than the generic and formal, “To Whom It May Concern.”
Review information on how to choose the right cover letter greeting to select one that works for the job and company you’re applying to.
Begin your introduction by stating what job you are applying for. Explain where you heard about the job, particularly if you heard about it from a contact associated with the company. Briefly mention how your skills and experience match the company and/or position; this will give the employer a preview of the rest of your letter. Your goal in the introduction is to get the reader's attention. To get started, see examples of engaging opening sentences for cover letters.
In a paragraph or two, explain why you are interested in the job and why you make an excellent candidate for the position. Mention specific qualifications listed in the job posting, and explain how you meet those qualifications. Do not simply restate your resume, but provide specific examples that demonstrate your abilities.
Remember, actions speak louder than words, so don’t just “tell” the reader that you are, for example, a great team player with strong communication skills and an excellent attention to detail. Instead, use tangible examples from your work experience to “show” these traits in action. Here’s more information on what to include in the body section of a cover letter.
In the closing section of your cover letter, restate how your skills make you a strong fit for the company and/or position. If you have room (remember, just like your resume, your cover letter should be no longer than one page - here's more information on how long a cover letter should be) you can also discuss why you would like to work at that specific company.
State that you would like the opportunity to interview or discuss employment opportunities. Explain what you will do to follow-up, and when you will do it. Thank the employer for his/her consideration.
Use a complimentary close, and then end your cover letter with your signature, handwritten, followed by your typed name. If this is an email, simply include your typed name, followed by your contact information, after the complimentary close.
Format Your Cover Letter
Your cover letter should be formatted like a professional business letter. The font should match the font you used on your resume, and should be simple and easy to read. Basic fonts like Arial, Calibri, Georgia, Verdana, and Times New Roman work well. A font size of 10 or 12 points is easy to read. Standard margins are 1” on the top, bottom, and left and right sides of the page.
Add a space between the header, salutation, each paragraph, the closing, and your signature. You can reduce the font and margin sizes to keep your document on a single page, but do be sure to leave enough white space for your letter to be easy to read.
Follow these cover letter formatting guidelines to ensure your letters match the professional standards expected by the hiring managers who review applications.
Remember to edit and proof your cover letter before sending it. It may sound silly, but make sure you include the correct employer and company names - when you write multiple cover letters at once, it is easy to make a mistake. Always double-check the spelling of your contact's name, as well as the company name.
Write a Cover Letter in 4 Easy Steps
1 Look for a Specific Employee Name
Through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and even Instagram, you may be able to find the name of a relevant employee to whom you can address your cover letter.
Don't just choose a random individual, but if you can, find someone in Human Resources - preferably a Director or Manager - or a higher-up within the department you're applying to. This is a key way to kickstart your application and make sure it gets to where it needs to go.
2 Analyze the Job Listing
Give the job listing a careful read and see where your own experience best matches up. Be discriminatory about which of the company's requirements you choose to highlight, as you are going to use these selections to make a table in your cover letter.
Remember that when all is said and done, your cover letter should only be one-page long. The points you choose should be the ones that are most significant to the position, but also the ones that provide specific examples and compelling anecdotes about your experience.
3 Create a Table or Paragraphs Highlighting Your Qualifications
Next, make a two-column table with the company's requirements on the left side, and your matching attributes on the right side.
When you make the table, you'll need to make it two columns. Then, take the number of requirements you're choosing and add one for the header. So, for this example, which has focused on five points, the table is two columns by six rows.
4 Finish With a Follow-Up
Finish strong and close the cover letter with the promise of a "next step." That way, even if your application gets lost at the bottom of a pile, when you reach out to the potential employer they'll be reminded to go retrieve your cover letter and resume and take another look.
Finally, be sure to proofread your cover letter so it's error free.